CLEVELAND (WJW) — Owners of local Asian stores and restaurants blame rumors and misinformation about the coronavirus, for a significant drop in business.
They say unfounded prejudice toward Asian-Americans has kept some customers away. Now, the message business owners are offering to consumers is to focus on facts, not rumors.
Business owners in Cleveland’s Asiatown say they have seen a 40 to 50 percent drop in business since the coronavirus emerged and they urge people not to let irrational fears fan the flames of bias against anyone of Asian descent.
“At our downtown restaurant, which serves authentic Chinese, there has been a drop-off, because again, the customers are scared,” said restaurant owner Ed Hom.
Hom’s family owns three Chinese restaurants in Northeast Ohio, including Li Wah, inside Asia Plaza at East 30th Street and Payne Avenue. He says around the time Chinese New Year celebrations ended last month, they began to see a sharp drop in customers. It was also when the coronavirus was rapidly spreading throughout China.
“Typically on a Sunday afternoon at 12:00, it is packed. It seats 400 people, the lines are out the door and now, while the main dining room gets filled, the party room isn’t, there’s no big line out the door,” he said.
“We didn’t think about it,” said customer Boni Swanek.
Hom says King Wah, their restaurant in Rocky River and Ho Wah in Beachwood, which serve more Americanized Chinese food, saw little or no impact to business.
“The customers are scared, they don’t know whether or not a Li Wah customer has talked to another person from Mainland China or anywhere from the Far East, because again, the clientele, predominantly downtown is Asian,” he explained.
“Just rely on, on sources like the CDC, or our local health department for facts and just rely on the facts, rather than things that are spread by fear,” said Karis Tzeng, Asiatown project manager with Midtown Cleveland.
Tzeng wants to remind people that there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus anywhere in Ohio. She adds that the risk of contracting it here is no greater than anywhere else.
“A lot of these businesses are local, small businesses that are family-run in a lot of cases, so I think, it makes me feel that we really need to protect these businesses if we want to continue to have this hub of Asian culture,” Tzeng said.
“You eat the authentic dishes, roast duck, roast pig, soft shell crab. If they don’t come to us, the next nearest spots are Chicago, Toronto and New York,” said Hom.
Ed Hom says he is not too worried. His family also had a drop off in business during the SARS epidemic in 2003, and expects, just like back then, business will return to normal, hopefully in two or three months.